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Social Start-ups: Daily dump

Bangalore is estimated to generate around 4,000 tonnes of solid waste every day. With the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) diktat on segregation-at-source, issued two years ago this month, being obeyed half-heartedly at best, it means the average household continues to throw out everything, from soiled diapers and plastic bags to construction debris, broken furniture and food leftovers, in one unholy jumble.

Not so in the home of Bharatanatyam guru Shraddha Prabhu Kumar. Her strictly vegetarian family of four produces about 1kg of fruit and vegetable peel every day. Every last seed, stalk and skin makes its way into a tall clay cylinder that stands right outside the kitchen window in the upmarket Ulsoor housing complex she resides in. “There’s no issue with smells," she says. “There was a problem with rats initially, but Daily Dump made modifications in the designs, so they are no longer a bother. Now I produce enough compost for my vegetable patches."

Notwithstanding the initial jokes over the nomenclature, Daily Dump has, over eight years, demonstrated that it means business, ushering in something of a revolution on a domestic scale across the city. By its own estimates, by September 2014, the 26,000 Daily Dump-stars—accounting for a 15% dropout rate—across Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Delhi were keeping out nearly 15,000kg of organic waste from the landfills every day.

For National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad graduate Poonam Bir Kasturi, 52, who founded Daily Dump after partnering with Neelam Chibber and Gita Ram in Industree Crafts Foundation and then setting up and working with the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, for 12 years, the figures, while satisfying in their own way, are also indicative of the mammoth nature of the problem.

“What really interests me is change. How change happens," she says. “When I was teaching at Srishti, I became convinced that if we don’t look at sustainability as a deep focus, there will be chaos."

Sustainability, craft-based livelihoods and new ways of doing business became the triggers for Bir Kasturi’s new venture; amusingly, the entrepreneur confesses that she has no talent whatsoever for gardening. “While researching craft, I realized that waste was going to become a massive problem in cities very soon because of changes in lifestyle, in buying and in packaging. I began thinking of how design could contribute to solving that problem," she says. “But while I could see there was a tacit need for domestic composters, there was no articulated demand. So I had to work on the storytelling, making the waste visible (instead of out of sight, out of mind)."

And then she adds with a laugh, “Alongside all these thoughts which were playing in my head simultaneously, there was the fact that compost would happen no matter what you do. I was fascinated—it’s a natural process that no one was paying any attention to!"

Bir Kasturi sounds almost apologetic about the simplicity of her idea. But it was clearly one whose time had come: The Daily Dump composters, or khambas (a three- tier small composter costs 990, and the large one 1,600), as she calls them, not only made waste visible, but also drove home the point to the householder that s/he was in charge and could be doing something for the country. It’s a powerful, seductive concept.

After being seeded by Bir Kasturi’s personal funds, Daily Dump received 20 lakh and 5 lakh, respectively, from venture capitalists KL Felicitas Foundation in 2012 and Ankur Capital this year.

“When we started out, it was just two of us, so I did everything, including servicing composters at clients’ homes. We also conducted a ‘trash trail’, on which we followed the garbage from roadside dumps to the landfill, and I’ve seen the nature—not to mention the volume—of garbage change," says Bir Kasturi. “It’s common today to see whole rotten fruits ending up in the composter (because they weren’t consumed in time). My question is: Why has it become okay to throw anythingaway?"

At least as important as the pre-emption of garbage destined for the landfill is the qualitative change Bir Kasturi sees in the village of potters who craft the Daily Dump khambas.

“So long we worked with a cluster of potters near Hyderabad. Recently, we have started working with another group in Pokhran, Rajasthan. Last year, the first group made 25 lakh from us. We bought them land upfront, now they have paid it off. Now they want to build, create assets in their own lifetime. It would’ve been unthinkable (without the Daily Dump work)," she says.

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